Serbia’s parliament dismisses defence minister two months after sexist gaffe

Serbia’s parliament dismisses defence minister two months after sexist gaffe
By Ivana Jovanovic February 6, 2016

Serbia’s national assembly sacked defence minister Bratislav Gasic at an extraordinary session on February 5, over a sexist comment Gasic made to a female journalist two months earlier.

Prime minister Aleksandar Vucic has been under pressure from journalists to sack Gasic, a close political ally and personal friend, but delayed claiming he did not have a replacement. However, Vucic plans to call early elections this spring, and Gasic’s dismissal is seen as a pre-election move to encourage  pro-EU and more moderate citizens to vote for his party.

Gasic made the comment on December 6 during a visit to the Petoletka factory in western Serbia. Several journalists waiting for a statement from the minister, including B92 correspondent Zlatija Labovic, crouched to keep out of the way of cameras. Gasic then commented to Labovic that he liked “[female] journalists who kneel ... easily".

After the comment went viral, Vucic promised to sack Gasic but said that Gasic would remain as defence minister until he found a replacement.

Journalists have kept the story in the spotlight, protesting in towns across the country in December and January to demand that Vucic keep his promise. They also threatened to boycott press conferences held by the government and Vucic’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS).

195 of Serbia’s 250 MPs voted in favor of the proposal to sack Gasic, submitted by Vucic on January 30, according to a government statement.

Finance minister Dusan Vujovic will perform the duties of the defense minister until a new minister is appointed, though this may not take place until after the elections which are expected to take place in April.

Gasic, the vice president of the SNS, had been in charge of developing the defence sector, which is expected to double its exports this year, as well as representing Serbia in discussions on cooperation with Nato.

In his speech to the parliament Vucic insisted that he was not dismissing Gasic because the minister deserved to be removed from his position or because the minister had done a bad job, but because Serbia had to be a “decent” country.

“I submitted the request because of one statement but, also, because it is much more than that one statement and one insult … I signed the decision on Gasic’s dismissal from the minister’s position because our society has to be decent and Serbia a decent, normal and modern country,” Vucic said, in the speech which was broadcast live on RTS2. Vucic added that he expects ministers to have a polite, moral and honest attitude.

“I m asking you to confirm my decision because of that politeness, morality, honesty and respect, we have to show for others,” he told MPs.

The debate lasted throughout the day and marked by strongly-worded exchanges between representatives of the ruling parties and the opposition. Deputies from the SNS and members of the ruling coalition walked out of the sitting after Dragan Sutanovac from the opposition Democratic Party (DS) and former defence minister posted a

Vucic announced on January 17 Serbia will hold early general elections in spring 2016, which will coincide with regular local and regional elections in the northern province of Vojvodina.

He said on January 26 that general elections would be called in 45-50 days, Tanjug reported. This would mean calling elections between 10 and 17 March.

Polls indicate that the SNS will increase its majority in the upcoming election; half of all Serbian voters who have decided to participate in the elections plan to vote for the SNS according to an Ipsos Strategic poll conducted in January, B92 reported on February 2. Vucic’s decision to keep his promise and sack his long-time ally shows the prime minister is taking no chances as the poll approaches.